Archive for the ‘Personal Reflections’ Category

Post-election fatigue grips PR guy

Friday, November 9th, 2012

It’s Friday, and the U.S. election (otherwise known as our long, national nightmare) is finally over.  No longer are our communication media filled with some of the nastiest political invective since, well, since the last election.

We now have, however, the blather-sphere lending their inconsiderable analytical skills to telling us all what President Obama’s win actually means. The predictable spin that is so well-loved by politicals is making me sick all over again. Today, I didn’t read anything about the election, bailing out on CNBC’s Squawk Box in favor of Looney Tunes as my treadmill-bound entertainment.  Hm, not sure of the difference!

At some point, I’ll want to reconnect == there were a few things that cropped up this week that I found fascinating – including the county-by-county map of popular vote, shaded by margin. The President’s people will claim a mandate, the Republican leadership will point out the margin of victory and claim there surely isn’t a mandate.  Both sides seem to be heading for a game of Chicken over the “fiscal cliff.” Posturing, positioning, poppycock has already squirted into the news.

With as many really important issues to tackle, it all seems to come down to these two points:

  • “The wealthy need to contribute a little more so we can do the things Americans want their government to do.”
  • “Socialism is a great system, until you run out of other people’s money.”

I’m just too tired to write anything more about it.


Do we have too many conferences?

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Basta!  I had a pretty thick queue for speaking engagements this fall: PRSA’s employee communication section conference was scheduled for Sept. 10-11, but got moved to next year due to low registrations. I was planning to sponsor a speaker, introduce a couple of them, and generally boost my PRSA profile and meet some new folks. I decided not to attend the international conference in San Francisco because I was doing #prsaec.

No prob – the IABC Heritage Region Conference beckoned. I sponsored, and wound up facilitating a breakout session and speaking on the end of conference panel. Sweet! Plus, the IABC PRIME Global Strategic Communication & Measurement Conference was coming up Nov. 12-13 in NYC, and I was speaking on internal communication measurement. Now, that one is cancelled too. WTF?

If I were a baseball player, a .333 batting average would get me into the All-Star Game, but 1 for 3 on speaking engagements isn’t very good. Why is this happening?

It sure seems like there are a lot of conferences. IABC’s world shindig is in June (and in NYC ’13), and PRSA’s big dance is in October. Both the big shows alternate regions, but I know that if they’re in California, I typically pass due to time away from the office and expensive airfare. I like the Heritage Region conference (four years in a row) – it’s a great program and is close enough to drive. With both Heritage and PRSA virtually the same weekend (it was pretty interesting when IABC was in Philly and PRSA in DC), and budgets under pressure — maybe trying to do a September and November gig is a bad idea.

The smaller conferences that focus on a specific domain of knowledge or functional area should have a lower nut to crack on attendance – I’d think 75 attendees in NYC or Chicago should be doable. But IABC is also running a conference the first week of December on “strategic communication for executives.” Then there’s Ragan, PRNews, ALI, WOMMA, all the social media gigs…We’re conferring a lot. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if some fetes are failing to fill.

The irritating part is booking myself into some things, and therefore missing others — the Conclave on social media standards, for one, and an Institute for PR Measurement Commission meeting, for another.  Plus, I’ve worked on planning several of these conferences, and it’s no picnic. You’d hope that PRSA and IABC would have their act together on how to market these effectively.

What’s the answer?

I have no idea.




IABC Heritage Region Conference: Outstanding

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Professional association conferences can be rather tedious affairs. They’re hard to program owing to the wide variety of experience of membership, the need for a balance of presenters between people who are selling something and those who are merely sharing, and no small disparity in skill as a public speaker. I know, because I’ve worked on several of them. One conference I’ve come to appreciate is the  International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) regional conference for members in the upper-right quadrant of the U.S. — the Heritage Region. When the Heritage conference came to Cleveland in 2009, I ran sponsorships, and in 2010 for Philadelphia, I was speakers co-chair and introduced a keynote speaker, and in 2011, I spoke in Detroit.

This year, Pittsburgh was the venue, and I sponsored the event and conducted a breakout session on employee engagement. It was an excellent conference, filled with first-rate programming at a fraction of the cost of other, larger ones.

I met some new people (which is the main goal for me at these things, along with having the chance to present), and heard some excellent communicators share interesting perspectives on our profession and its future. Here, briefly, a few of my observations:

Alison Davis got us started with an inspiring, if familiar, call to earn our stripes as strategists. Davis is a good speaker, and my only complaint is that the message is pretty basic stuff (see above on comment about the difficulty of programming when many levels are in the room).  But her methods were fun to hear, and she used Joan Jett and Bob Seger to open and close her talk.

Dina Wolfman Baker reorganized her communication department to align with an organizational refit, and started the process with primary research among 30 stakeholders, plus a time study to see where staff time was being spent. It’s rare, in my experience, to see so strategic a method for reorganization. The process too frequently is more political and financial — wider spans of control, certain number of reports by budget, etc.  Baker’s insights emerging from the research weren’t limited to structural questions, either — one factiod — a disconnect among leadership in expectations regarding willingness to accept advice from communicators and sharing strategy with them. The new structure brought more focus and expertise to bear on the topics that mattered most to the organization.

Robin McCasland runs internal communication for an IT services firm facing cultural change owing to acquisitions. She focused on the combined company’s shared distinctiveness and the appeal to a higher purpose to reinvigorate leadership enthusiasm and employee identification with the essentially new firm. But, she doesn’t ignore, either, the very real need to ramp up understanding of the industry and business among employees as the company looks to grow.

Erin Dick, whom I try never to miss on a dais, gave a terrific talk on a familiar topic – the ever increasing pace of change in society, including in the communication field. Dick is a high-energy, entertaining speaker who really gave a clinic on how to give a presentation. Great multimedia, enthusiasm and excitement (and some really cool, even scary new tech that’s already here, not just in the future.)

Jeff Hutson, who I got to introduce, had the unenviable position of kicking off the second conference day at 8 a.m. after the inevitable dinner out at the end of day one. Jeff is a research geek like me, and he shared some practical tools to help math-o-phobic communicators get over their fear and embrace the numbers — or at least, embrace someone who knows how to embrace the numbers. This notion informs a class I teach at Kent State University on measurement and ROI in communications — the goal isn’t to teach people to do measurement, it’s to help people do an RFP and evaluate the people who’ll do the work.

Betsy duWaldt, a colleague and Kent and former head of internal comms at First Energy Corp., is finishing up her Ph.D. at Duquesne, and she shared First Energy’s path to reinventing its employee communication — including a fascinating look at how the CEO won over a skeptical workforce. (Sorry Betsy, no photo!)

D. Mark Schumann, amid his trademark flowing mane of steel-grey hair and frequent self-deprecating quips, called on us to reinvent our profession and ourselves in our third keynote, then presided over a panel discussion where four breakout facilitators (including Moi) shared details and action steps that participants suggested to complete that reinvention.  It was a great close to two great days.

I may be largely “done” with IABC’s international conference, but the Heritage is a must for me.

I’m seeing a lot of IABC this fall — I’m speaking in mid-November at the IABC/PRIME Research conference in New York and talking employee communication measurement. Should be a great time — and another great, small conference from my longest-tenured professional association.

P.s. Why do I think IABC, PRSA, etc., are valuable, and what are my concerns and complaints about them? See this post on PR Conversations.


Scorched earth, distortion and spin: political communication in 2012

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

It’s not even September yet. The conventions aren’t through, and already the Obama/Biden and Romney/Ryan partisans are locked and loaded with focus-grouped messages designed to burn each other alive. Feh.

I know that politics brings out the worst in people, and it’s been that way for a really long time.  Historian Paul Boller avers that after George Washington, we invented political parties, and the nastiness continues unabated as a result.  I remember 1968 – the bloody quest for the Democratic nomination where the fix was in for Hubert Humphrey. The rise from political ashes of Richard Nixon, Clean Gene McCarthy. In ’72, George McGovern is waxed by Richard Nixon, making the Plumbers and Watergate one of the stupider crimes of the century.  Ford pardons Nixon and Carter puts on a sweater as we wait in line for gas. Up until that point, they all referred to each other as, “my esteemed opponent” — perhaps because they made the rash assumption that whatever their differences in belief or approach, we all had honorable goals in mind.

That doesn’t seem to be the case now — Willie Horton, Slick Willie, right-wing nut job, pinko liberal. Now we have and the Tea Party demanding pledges of allegiance to their views — when you’re farther right than Attila the Hun, everyone looks like a left-wing dipstick. When you’re left of Jane Fonda, everyone looks like a right-wing extremist. We misinterpret political terms — socialist, communist, fascist, conservative, Nazi — and apply them inappropriately. Democrats don’t want the end of private property, Republicans don’t want hoards of poor people to starve and die. Neither party has suggested be have a dictator.

This makes me sad as an American, but also makes me mad as a communicator. Whither simple fairness?  Obama’s a communist who wants to turn us into Greece. Romney’s rich, so he has to be a criminal. Paul Ryan (who is a pretty serious and smart guy on economics and government, regardless of his predictable social policy perspectives) wants to push granny over a cliff and put on Ebeneezer Scrooge’s waistcoat as he watches Tiny Tim starve.

This is a serious election. It’s a battle over two world views — one that says government should play the dominant role in life in pursuit of fairness, and the other that says that government should tolerate some unfairness in favor of liberty and markets and more power to the individual. Regardless of where you or I stand on that question, it’s a discussion worth having.

If only we can stop shouting each other down long enough to listen and decide.


Why is telling the truth so hard?

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Creative Commons, by Brian Hillegas

The Institute for PR has published “Ethical standards and guidelines for public relations research and measurement“, which PRNewser’s Tonya Garcia summarized as “Basically, don’t be a horrible, self-serving liar.” The statement, By Dr. Shannon Bowen, John Gilfeather, & Dr. Brad Rawlins, is a stake in the ground, and on the surface might seem to be a statement of the obvious. But PR as a profession still seems ethically dubious — witness the latest in a long line of Walmart amazin’s stories.

Walmart hired Mercury Public Affairs to lobby LA city hall to approve construction of a store in Chinatown. No problem. But when Mercury employee Stephanie Harnett went to a meeting of Warehouse Workers United, which wants to unionize Walmart’s workers, she lied about who she was, claiming to be journalism student from the University of Southern California.

Both Walmart and Mercury declaimed any responsibility — Mercury saying that she was a junior member of their staff and that no one, neither Mercury nor Walmart, told her to do any such thing.  I’d be tempted to write this off as a sad commentary on PR education and the “anything goes” culture of the modern age, but Socrates did a better job of making that argument.

What seems likely is that both Mercury and Walmart tossed her under the bus. Media reports say that Harnett was shaking like a leaf during her ruse, so she has to know that what she was doing was wrong. Of course, apparently she got over it in short order. Her Twitter account is closed (good idea; it can’t have been much fun to read the tweets), and she’s keeping a low profile.

Walmart’s not known as a Pantheon of ethics — the Astroturf campaign, the Mexico bribery issue. And many PR firms seem willing to do whatever will generate revenue, from selling war through deliberate falsehood to representing dictators.  PR ethics can seem like a contradiction in terms.

But I won’t give up, and neither should you. Thanks to Bowen, Gilfeather and Rawlins, we’ve got another arrow in our quiver.


Political PR might be the root of all evil

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Kent State’s ever quotable Dr. Bob Batchelor just gave his “Is PR Evil?” lecture and posted about five minutes of it on Facebook. He says, “yes, PR is evil.”

I disagree. The majority are thousands of practitioners working every day to conduct themselves ethically, and represent their organizations accurately as they support business objectives. To say, as Dr. B. does, that failure to enthusiastically fight the gender gap is evidence of evil, diminishes evil. Al-Qaeda is evil.  Bernie Madhoff is evil.

There are myriad reasons for the gender gap, and sexism does not account for them all, as this report from Education International explains. I do not doubt that pay equity is a problem in many cases, but singling out the PR industry’s perceived inaction as evil is a gross oversimplification.

Dr. B. says that whenever he interacts with a corporation, he winds up using words like diabolical, Satanic, wicked, bad, dark, sinister, infernal, unholy, ugly, vile, slimy… Really? Every corporation?  What is your point, sir? That corporations are evil? That only government can save us from their rapacious ways? Right. Because government is so pure!

If any part of the PR industry might meet Dr. Batchelor’s description, it’s political PR.  Politics requires the basest elements of press agentry — a willingness to misrepresent at best, to ignore objective truth, to lie if necessary.  It’s a bipartisan effort that leaves citizenry contemplating polar versions of events, perspectives and paths.

Witness the discussion on national health insurance — it’s a right, it’s an assault on liberty, it’s an expensive boondoggle, it’s a money-saver, it’s a requirement for a just civilization, it’s a violation of the Constitution.

How about tax policy? It’s fairness for the rich to pay more, because they can afford it. It’s wrong for nearly half the people to pay no taxes at all.  It’s Robin Hood economics, it’s essential to our way of life, it allows us to rebuild the middle class, it’s a zero-sum cash grab that makes government more powerful…

And so on.

The political machine cares only about the perpetuation of government, and they fight over who gets to run things.  By the way, government creates no wealth at all. It exists at the sufferance of those who work in the private sector, and relies entirely on its ability to collect money from the private sphere. That’s not a political statement. It’s a fact.

At least business has a transparent mission: to make money for its owners, which means those of us working for and with business have a transparent mission as well – to help the organizations attain their business objectives. This does not argue for an absolute lack of regulation, however. Even Adam Smith believe business needed to be properly regulated.   So you won’t find me demanding an end to food safety, clean water and many other regulations, which, of course, marks me as an apostate among my more conservative friends.

Name-calling doesn’t help, either, whether it’s Birthers claiming the President is a socialist Muslim or Richard Cohen referring to Rick Santorum as “Mullah Rick.”

If anything, it’s political PR that sets out business issues in black and white terms, supported by governmental regulatory schema. Businesses are cast as the enemy, business people as the scourge of the earth.

Now, what is evil?





I guess I don’t ‘live social’

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

As much as I like fulminating here, and pinging around Twitter, I don’t think I’m all-in on the social media poker pot. When there’s little billing activity and no classwork from either the one I teach or the one I take, I write posts, do Twitter chats, and otherwise try to be a participant.

I’ve met some terrific people through Twitter, enjoy catching up on Facebook and LinkedIn (though my LI activity is woefully small), but I don’t post my status at all hours, don’t use location apps like Foursquare, have barely scratched the possibilities for Google+ and couldn’t tell you if Quora is better than Posterus.

I feel guilty that friends will send emails, “you ok? you’re so quiet!” — but not guilty enough to be up at 10 p.m. playing the social media butterfly. I likes me quiet time, non-electronic. I love hiking in the woods or along the lakeshore. I love playing my guitar and talking to my Esteemed Spouse. I love our friends, face to face discussion, anything featuring food and wine.

Perhaps, after all, I’m analog in a digital world, a mere social media dilettante.


Blog-cation coming to a close…

Saturday, May 14th, 2011
Portage Lakes, Ohio

By Sean Williams, All Rights Reserved

I’ve committed a grievous sin in social media land. I’ve taken a bit of a Sabbatical from blogging and mostly, from Tweeting, with a few exceptions. Now I have a bit more time on my hands, as I wait to see what my schedule is like for a big research project and the response to a couple of proposals. So, I’m intending to babble on a bit more in the coming days.  One such venue will be Thursday’s #icchat, the Twitter-based discussion on internal communications that I conduct monthly.  Join us at 10 a.m. eastern on 19 October.

I’ve not done a great job marketing the chat — it’s not as sexy as #measurepr, #PR20Chat or #Kaizenblog, I guess because it’s more concerned with internal matters than social media and press relations.  However, we do have good discussions on our topic, so I hope you’l join us…




Measurement Musing: Questions…No Answers…

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Public Relations measurement is so essential, yet so poorly understood. I’m sure it’s my bad that after gaining one client upon launching my business that focused on measurement, I haven’t had a second.  I’ve done some strategy work, some writing, and now am working on a  long-term project for a client that once again, has no measurement component to it.

I do wonder whether I’m just not the right person to help organizations measure — there are other, longer standing, better educated folks out there. Maybe it’s my destiny to stick in the internal communications space, rather than the measurement angle.  Of course, I try never to make life decisions any time from December through February — the seasonal affective disorder reaches its nadir (or zenith) as the winter solstice arrives and lingers through the cold, gray months.

I introduced measurement to my PR Tactics class at Kent State this fall — just a brief tablespoonful — I’m hoping that they remember it as they enter the profession. One thing’s for sure — they certainly had better measurement components in their final projects! Whoo-hoo!

This spring, I’m teaching a course in PR Metrics — so perhaps this is how I can drive measurement into our profession: give it to the kids who’ll replace the dinosaurs in a few years…

Speaking of which, I’ll be sourcing case studies in measurement — and entertaining guest speakers (either in person or by Skype) — so if you can help me out, let me know!

More questions:

Why do so many companies still see news media and social media as mutually exclusive instead of related?

When thinking about measuring social media, why we want to categorize it in the same way we do news media?

Why do we think reaching the most people is better than reaching the right ones?

Why do we want to define influence as only occurring through social media, and why do we so narrowly define it IN social media?

How come we can’t come up with a better means of determining appropriate scope and scale?

Why do people think the only marker of PR intelligence and value relates to external communication?

Why do companies fail to measure employee communication outcomes? Matter of fact, why do we still count clips?

Why am I thinking these hairy thoughts ?

Are these rhetorical questions? (No…)

BTW, don’t miss the Twitter chat, #MeasurePR with @Shonali Burke, Tuesday at 12 noon.


Death puts things in perspective

Monday, November 29th, 2010
Claudia Timmerman Bishop

Claudia passed away this weekend

It’s been a rollicking fall around here, and I admit to feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, even to the point of convening a pity party to mourn my reduction of free time.  But this weekend, our friend Claudia Timmerman Bishop passed away in her sleep at hospice. She was only a little older than I and had been sick for the past couple of years.

Claudia, who used to work with the Esteemed Spouse, chaired the Heartthrob Ball, and we were communication co-chairs for the event benefiting the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.  It was a great event, and Claudia demonstrated not only her managerial skill but her grace under pressure.  Shortly after that, she entered Case Western Reserve University to study non-profit management, and I presented on communication and presentation skills to her class.

She was a terrific person, full of hope and commitment when she, while working for the American Cancer Society, got struck by the disease. Things were looking up until late last year, when the cancer came back, this time with murderous intent.

She married Tom, her longtime companion, and threw a party — one part wedding reception, one part wake, and then settled in for the next phase of the journey. Now, she’s moved on, and heaven is enjoying her smile, terrific sense of humor, warmth and friendship.

Suddenly, my petty concerns don’t seem so onerous…or even important.

RIP, Claudia.